Scientists Say They’ve Figured Out Why Starfish Are Melting

sea star

From Mexico to Alaska, starfish have been mysteriously melting for more than a year. When a starfish first gets sick, its arms pretzel up and white lesions form on its skin. Next, the starfish, normally plush with water absorbed to keep its shape, starts to deflate. Then suddenly, its limbs begin falling off. Once symptoms start, it can take only a few days for the starfish to disintegrate and die.

The illness has been dubbed “sea star wasting disease,” and it emerged and spread rapidly along the Pacific coast last year. But marine biologists only had a few hunches — global warming, perhaps? — as to what was causing the deaths of millions of these animals.

Now, a massive new study has narrowed down the cause of what’s liquefying this lynchpin species. The findings, from a diverse group of invertebrate biologists, geneticists, statisticians, veterinarians and virologists, were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s a virus that’s sweeping the starfish, researchers say. In fact, it’s the first starfish virus ever discovered.

“Prior to the study, there was almost nothing known about the pathogens of sea stars,” said Ian Hewson, a marine biologist at Cornell and co-author —> Read More Here


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